Home Energy and Environment True Price of Coal: Massive Ash Spill Threatens Dan River’s Fish, Drinking...

True Price of Coal: Massive Ash Spill Threatens Dan River’s Fish, Drinking Water


On Sunday, a security guard spotted a leak at an enormous Duke Energy coal ash pond. It’s now estimated that 82,000 tons of coal ash flowed into the Dan River along with 27 million gallons of water. Matt Wasson, the program director of Appalachian Voices pictured here collecting a water sample, warns the river’s dozen or so fish species are at risk:

Wasson, calling the incident “a massive disaster,” said six inches of coal ash covered the bottom of the river Tuesday about two miles downstream from the spill site. “It’s like a lava flow moving slowly toward Danville on the bottom of the river,” Wasson said.

Selenium toxicity could be a concern for humans for months or years as a result of the spill, Wasson said. Arsenic could reduce the number of fish available in the Dan River for years, harming the food chain on which they depend for food.

“It’s fair to say possible impacts of this on fish populations could extend for years,” he said.

When politicians talk about the cost of coal energy vs. clean energy, they never (OK, maybe if their name is Jim Moran or Sheldon Whitehouse) talk about costs like these. What’s the cost of threatening the Dan River’s drinking water and entire fish population? When politicians like State Sen. Tom Garrett claim to be terribly concerned about the impacts of wind power on birds, why aren’t they outraged that bald eagles will now be eating coal ash-poisoned fish out of the Dan River?

And let’s not forget the horrifying impacts of coal power on human health even when everything’s going right:

Mercury contamination is so widespread that one out of every six pregnant women have mercury levels in their blood high enough for levels in the fetus to reach or surpass the EPA’s safety threshold for mercury.

According to the latest government data, this means that 630,000 children are born each year with a strong chance of developing serious mercury-related health effects.

According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.

And coal plants get to inflict all this damage without paying a cent for it. It’s called privatizing profit and socializing the risk.

Tell the Environmental Protection Agency you support strong new limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

  • ir003436

    I may be wrong, but, the Dan River winds from VA into NC, back into VA, back into NC.  From Eden, NC, where the spill occurred, it flows a short distance to Danville, where it’s the source of the city’s water.  From there, it meanders along, forming the Kerr Reservoir, which provides drinking water for many small towns and cities on both sides of the state line.

    This stuff is coal ash.  Power plants burn coal to generate steam to turn turbines that drive generators that produce electricity.  Coal doesn’t burn completely.  The ashes left behind are filled with all sort of nasty stuff, that’s why power companies are required to pile the coal ash in “containment ponds,” also called “slurry ponds.”  Many coal-fired power plants are located along rivers because they need a source of water to run through the boilers that drive the steam turbines.  The containment ponds are required to have liners so the ash slurry doesn’t leak into surrounding streams.

    When accumulated coal ash absorbs water — as from lots of rain or snow — it gets heavy and the pressure on the containment pond walls increases.  If the pond walls are not constructed properly, they collapse, either whole are in places.

    However, from time to time, the pressure from zillions of tons of wet ash breaks down the containment  pond walls and you get this.

    Read about what happened in East Tennessee a few  years ago.


    Pay special attention to the evil chemicals contained in this coal ash.  Also read how TVA tried to avoid responsibility for the spill.  Expect Duke Power to pull the same tricks.



    ~ On Dan River coal ash situation  ~

    Richmond–Attorney General Mark R. Herring released the following statement today on the Dan River coal ash situation:

    “Earlier this afternoon, I spoke to Mayor Saunders, City Manager King and other city leaders from Danville about the coal ash spill in the Dan River. I pledged to them my personal support and that of my office if there is anything we can do to protect public health, protect the water supply, and minimize environmental damage. Thus far, Duke Energy appears to be doing the right things in accepting responsibility for this situation, and I told city leaders that they and the people of Southside can count on me to help make sure Duke follows through on their word in the weeks and months ahead.”